After a late arrival of the train into Varanasi we took an auto and asked him to take us to the 'golden temple archway' which he said OK to. We 'arrived' but I could see no archway so we asked him where it was, he said "you walk straight" and pointed ahead. We had a 'discussion' over the fact that he said he would take us there and he said that he was not allowed to go any further. In the end I was very annoyed so just paid him and we got out. 'Conveniently' a tout was on hand ready to help us find a hotel, little did he know that we knew exactly where we were going. We arrived at the hotel recommended by a friend and it was grim. I didn't want to stay there but I was too tired to walk to find anywhere else. I told Sam to choose but as I didn't want either answer I was still unhappy. By this point we were both a little annoyed and tired so we sat in out room for 5 minutes in silence before going for breakfast in a little cafe overflowing with locals. We walked South along the side of the River Ganges to see the ghats, they were much more impressive here than in Pushkar as the river was flowing and people were swimming and dipping, washing their clothes and their mouths out with the water. It was a colourful and bustling affair so we sheltered for a couple of minutes next to a dead rat as it was the only patch of shade that didn't smell too badly of excrement before turning North and walking along some more of the ghats with constant pestering from boat owners trying to tell us that now was the best time of day for a boat ride (no people bathing to see and blistering heat, I could think of nothing worse!). We politely declined all of the offers and continued walking. A man latched onto us about 500m before the burning ghat that we wanted to have a look at and 'guided' us down the straight path before handing us over to a 'guide who worked in the care home'-it sounded nice but I sensed a scam.
The air was thick with smoke and the ground beneath us black and ashy. There were four fires lit at spaced intervals and several men dressed in white hovering around them. A family was down at the river's edge with a dead body on a bamboo stretcher wrapped in red and gold cloth giving it a bath in the river and another similar stretcher being unwrapped of the cloth next to a pile of wood which had just been constructed. The 'guide' explained how the body is dealt with after death;
1) It is smeared with 7 natural ingredients for the 7 charkras of the body
2) Loaded onto a bamboo stretcher, covered with red and gold cloth, carried to the ghat
3) Given a final bath in the River Ganges
4) 240kg of wood is bought and the body placed into a pile of it
5) The oldest man of the family takes fire from an 'eternal flame' and lights the fire
6) The body is burnt for 3 hours until only the sternum is left
7) The remaining parts are thrown into the river Ganges
8) The oldest man of the family mast wear white clothes for 10 days
Holy animals like cows are not burnt as they are already pure so are tied to large stones and sunk in the middle of the river.
After his little chat the man told us that wood is expensive and that the poor families in his 'care home' cannot afford wood so would we like to give a little donation, just a couple of kilos, only 50 pounds! I don't think so. We gave him 100rs for his talk and left. We walked back towards our hotel and had stopped at a little sweet shop for me to try another of the little delicacies when a man arrived and 'helped me choose' which involved me getting one with a big dead ant on top then persuaded Sam that we wanted to go and look at silk scarves in his shop. We decided that as we are in Varanasi, silk scarves would be good presents! The man went through the rigmarole of getting out over 50 different colours before I narrowed it down to my 3 favourite colours which we bought for 450rs. After declining other items such as giant table cloths we took our scarves to the hotel and decided where to go for dinner. We were on our way to a pizza place but in the little alleyway just outside our hotel a stall had opened up and it was surrounded by a huge crowd of people ordering food which looked really tasty so we ditched the pizza idea, put in our order and waited! It was indeed very good and with bottomless chickpea curry we were both full and dozy so went to sit at the Dasaswamedh ghat to await the 7pm fire and dance show. No sooner had we sat down than Sam was joined by 2 Indian guys which quickly turned into 5, each wanting to shake hands and introduce themselves. Just before the performance started, a cow stole a bag of flour from a beggar whilst he had gone to get some water. The cow proceeded to munch through the plastic bag, creating a plume of flour right in front of us. It took the man a while to realise where his flour had gone but when he did he looked so unhappy. Cows can't be holy to everyone. I took some money down to him to buy more flour and he hid the money in his shirt and we watched the show which had just begun. It consisted of dancing, waving incense around and swirling metal containers with fire in around- it was more impressive than it sounds as there were 6 or 7 men all doing it at the same time! We were both tired after a short night's sleep on the train so as soon a the show finished we went to bed.
We were up and dressed by 5.15 to go for a 'just after sunrise ' boat trip. We got to the frondt door of our hotel and it was locked so we woke a guy up and he let us out. A man found us and offered 200 each for a private boat and we got him down to 150 for a little wooden rowing boat for just the two of us (we saw up to 10 people in other boats of the same size!) The little old man started rowing us South along the ghats, he made it seem really easy. The sun had just risen and was a bright red sphere behind us as we sat back and watched the hundreds of brilliantly brightly coloured Indians scurrying down to the waters edge and immersing themselves in the holy water. It was peaceful with only the hum of the pilgrims chatting and chanting on the bank. The rowing man let Sam and I have a go at rowing, neither of us was as good as him so we gave him his job back! He suggested that we go for a swim, but as we'd seen dead peoples body parts being throw in further upstream we declined. He said that the water was clean but I begged to differ, then he suggested that he take us to the far bank as it is "cleaner over that side of the river", how that works I don't know but I still don't want to go swimming! Once our hour was up the man said he had no change to give us so I went to find some whilst Sam waited. Once the man was paid we went back to check out of our room as it's 24 hour checkout which means you check out at the same time as you checked in- 8am then! We went on a hunt for some more silk scarves for presents which involved following a man for about 30 minutes to his brothers shop, then when it was too expensive he said "OK, cheaper shop"- so it probably wasn't his brothers shop! We went for lunch in the pizza place at the very Southern most ghat so we look a cycle-rickshaw and he went like the clappers-they must feed them speed here! It was the most amazing pizza and cold coffee mmm, and to top it off we could relax in the shade with the air cooler, watching the water buffaloes wallowing in the Ganges. We took an auto back to our hotel after taking closer look at the buffaloes and the driver let Sam have a go at 'driving', well holding the controls whilst he drove! We picked up our bags and were off to the train station, on the move again- this time back to Delhi to meet Sam's parents!